How to cope with the overwhelm caused by the Coronavirus Crisis

Are you finding everyone wants a piece of your time at the moment? Are you being pulled from pillar to post trying to calm down your clients, take your fair share of home schooling the kids and sort out your team who are all working remotely, maybe for the first time? This is why we asked Heather Townsend, founder of The Accountants’ Millionaires’ Club, for her advice on how to eliminate the overwhelm, and cut your workload down to manageable levels.

It all starts with you

The ‘official’ busy season for UK small accountancy firm owners ended just over 2 months ago, but the last month has felt like the busy season to end all busy seasons with no real end in sight. I know this sounds a little strange or flippant but managing overwhelm all starts with you. You can choose to be a victim and let it just happen to you, or you can dig deep and start making the choices about how you are going to manage everything at the moment. 

The first step in dealing with overwhelm is to press pause. Overwhelm is normally caused by a mixture of a sense of too much to do, too little time to do it and too many people wanting our attention. When you can spend some time to organise yourself as well as make tweaks to how you are working, you can often reduce the amount of overwhelm you are feeling substantially. 

Reduce the number of communication channels

With nearly every accountancy firm suddenly finding itself working remotely, most accountancy firm owners have added in multiple new communication channels. For example, this could be via Whatsapp, Microsoft Teams or Slack. Then add into the mix the potential addition of aged parents getting used to new technology and being bored at home, and large swathes of your client base desperate to speak to you. Before long the beeps, pings, phone/Zoom/Skype/Facetime calls all get pretty exhausting and overwhelming.   

When it comes to personal efficiency golden rules, the first thing to do is switch off your notifications. You don’t need to know about every new Whatsapp or Microsoft Teams message. Make yourself have the discipline to switch off your phone and communication channels in the hours when you need peace and quiet to get on with clients’ work. 

Carefully consider exactly what you will do for free

With many clients’ businesses in dire straits and no indication of whether business will return after lockdown, there is a real temptation to offer to do everything for free. How to charge and whether to charge at all is always a personal choice. But the reality is that often that clients don’t value the ‘free’ option as much as the ‘paid for’ option. The more of your firm’s capacity and resources you tie up doing non-chargeable work for clients, the greater the hit to your firm’s profit margin when you come to getting the backlog of chargeable work done. 

Our members are finding innovative ways of charging for extra work, but in a way that feels ethically correct and palatable to their clients. For example, flexible payment terms or offering to be paid a small percentage of the extra finance they help their clients acquire in return for all the work to be completed to help their clients. 

Be proactive with your clients

There is no doubt about it, it is a worrying time right now. No one knows what is going to happen. There is no precedent to use to guide your business right now. What every client is hungry for is certainty, which you can’t give them. What you can do is proactively communicate with clients about what is going on. To streamline your communication to clients you could:

  • Set up a Facebook group so you can reduce the amount of time needed to answer the same question from different business owners
  • Send regular updates of curated information to your clients when you become aware of key changes to the financial help available to your clients
  • Run ‘virtual’ question and answer sessions for clients to log into to ask you their questions. These could be in the form of a webinar, or just an online meeting. 

The more information you and the team can push out to clients, the less they will want to pick up the phone and call you.

Keep the compliance work going

With so much urgent help needed NOW by clients, it’s very easy to take your eye off the ball in terms of the everyday compliance work. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking we have plenty of time to catch up with this later. Your clients wouldn’t thank you later if deadlines are missed because your firm were too busy supporting your clients with their extra COVID-19 related requirements. 

One way to find the extra capacity, particularly if you have been impacted by staff sickness, is to outsource your year-end accounts jobs to a credible (and highly recommended) outsourcer such as GI. While your staff are busy talking with clients and helping them sort out their urgent business needs, GI could be doing your December or March year end accounts work. In fact, they could even help you get ahead with your personal tax return work. After all, many of your clients will be at home with not much to do right now. 

In summary

As I stated at the start of this article you can choose to be overwhelmed, or you can choose to take control of your situation to reduce the overwhelm. Despite what it may seem like at the moment, the amount of handholding your team and clients are needing will reduce. But until then, it’s up to you to take some sensible decisions about how you spend your time.

Author Credit:

Heather Townsend is the author and founder of The Accountants Millionaires’ Club. She was featured in the 2019 Practice Ignition top 50 women globally in accountancy.

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